Germany must crack down on hate crimes, says Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel, Joerg Hofmann and Christiane Benner, leaders of German industrial union IG Metall, attend the trade union congress in Nuremberg. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2019

Germany must crack down on hate crimes, says Merkel

  • Statement comes a day after a gunman attacked a synagogue and killed two people nearby in a live-streamed rampage
  • Jewish leader claims police failed to adequately protect synagogue in Halle

BERLIN: Germany must crack down on hate, violence and hostility, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, a day after a gunman attacked a synagogue and killed two people nearby in a live-streamed rampage.

There could have been many more victims had the suspected perpetrator, German national Stephan B., breached the gates to the synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, Merkel said.

The gunman failed to get into the synagogue in Wednesday’s attack, but went on to kill two bystanders in his live-streamed rampage.

“I am, like millions of people in Germany, shocked and dejected by the crime that was perpetrated in Halle yesterday,” Merkel said in an address to a trade union congress in Nuremberg. 

“We all know, we only just avoided a terrible attack on the people in the synagogue,” she added. “There could have been many more victims.”

In a video of more than 30 minutes that the attacker live-streamed from a helmet camera, he was heard cursing his failure to enter the synagogue before shooting dead a woman passer-by in the street and a man in a nearby kebab restaurant.

Two other people were injured but regional broadcaster MDR said their condition was not critical.

“We are happy about every synagogue, every Jewish community and all Jewish life in our country,” Merkel said. “That means ... the representatives of the state must use all the means of the state to crack down on hate, violence and hostility towards people.”

A military source said Stephan B. had done military service, but received no special training. 

German media said investigators had searched the attacker’s home. MDR reported that he lived with his mother in Benndorf, west of Halle. “He planned to kill people,” MDR quoted one investigator as saying.

Earlier, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the synagogue and told reporters: “Today is a day of shame and disgrace ... It fills us all with horror that an attack took place in our country, a country with this history.”

“I’m very sure the overwhelming majority of this society in Germany wants Jewish life to be part of this country,” Steinmeier said. 

Most Jewish institutions in Germany’s large cities have a near-permanent police guard.

Josef Schuster, president of the council of Germany’s Jewish community, criticized police for not being stationed outside the synagogue that was attacked as dozens prayed inside.

“If police had been stationed outside the synagogue, then this man could have been disarmed before he could attack the others,” Schuster told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

In the event, the synagogue’s solid locked gates and high walls provided ample protection against the attacker’s seemingly improvised weapons.

Schuster said that while it was normal practice in his experience for all synagogues to have police guards while services were being conducted inside, this appeared not to be the case in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halle is located.

However, the head of Germany’s police union was sceptical about providing that level of protection.

“We’d have to guard every synagogue, every church, every mosque, every holy place in Germany around the clock, so I don’t know if this was a mistake or if this really couldn’t have been foreseen,” Oliver Malchow told ARD public television.

Germany’s federal prosecutors ramped up their legal case on Thursday, saying they would ask the investigating judge at the Federal Court of Justice to issue an arrest warrant against Stephan B., who was detained on Wednesday.


Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Updated 26 October 2020

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.